Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Linger Long over Your Bible

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 8:00am

Bible intake isn’t just about reading, but meditating on God’s truth. Don’t let it go, even when you feel dry. Linger over God’s words until you’re satisfied.

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Preferring Infertility: How We Worship the Queen of Heaven

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:02pm

If you have more than two children, likely someone has asked you one of the more embarrassing and awkward questions: “Don’t you know what causes those?”

At times I’ve wanted to answer, “No. Would you be willing to explain it to me?” But the truth is, as a mother of five living children and one that died in my womb, I do know what causes those little humans to exist. Just like I know what caused the person who asks such a question to exist. God does.

Often it isn’t the children themselves that bother onlookers, but the impracticality of having so many that gets under their skin. They want to know if the kids share rooms, what the grocery bill is like, how we plan to manage college, and most importantly, why we would subject ourselves to so much work.

Queen of Heaven

The people of Judah were just as practical and pragmatic concerning children as people of today, but in an opposite, though just as idolatrous, way. The book of Jeremiah has some terrifying words for them. Jeremiah, God’s chosen prophet, warns them over and over of their evil ways, but they are undisturbed. They defy his warnings,

“As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster.” (Jeremiah 44:16–17)

The queen of heaven — that nonexistent goddess of fertility and love on whom God’s people had set their hearts — was requiring offerings. What did she desire aside from their complete devotion? Drink offerings and fancy cakes with her face on them. The Lord called such idolatry and sacrifices an abomination (Jeremiah 44:4).

Elective Infertility

Picturing the women of Judah foolishly and sinfully baking cakes for their female fertility idol (Jeremiah 44:19) ought to stir our hearts and have us wondering where the finger should be pointed. If sacrifices of drinks and cakes to a false goddess of fertility kindled the Lord’s anger to the point that he forbade Jeremiah to pray for the people (Jeremiah 7:16), then what must God think of a society that has made child sacrifice normal for the sake of elective infertility?

What must he think of a society that goes to such great lengths to do away with children, only to go great lengths to acquire other children when the time is right?

Many worship the false queen of heaven in her cloak of personal autonomy. The people of Judah were manipulating this false fertility queen to obtain offspring, to prosper, and for love. Today, we manipulate a similar queen, the queen of elective infertility, in order to prosper, and for love, and to wipe out offspring. Should we be surprised that so many prayers go unanswered while babies are torn apart or rinsed down the sink or acquired for selfish motives?

We’ve rejected the God who opens and closes the womb in favor of a goddess who shreds it.

When False Gods Work

What may hit closer to home in Jeremiah’s warnings is the sin of pragmatism. It’s a sin that is as common as leaves in the fall or snow at a Minnesota Christmas. Why won’t they listen to Jeremiah? Why do they continue to worship the queen of heaven? Simple. The idol worship is working for them.

Why won’t we forsake greed? Simple. It gets us what we want. Why won’t we say no to porn? Simple. The porn is working out fine and the marriage is no worse for the wear at the moment. Why are we content to ignore our Bibles for a week or a month? Easy. Nothing bad happened the last time we did it. Why do we lie and cut corners at work? Because we’ve been doing it for ages and we still got the year-end bonus and maintain a two-car garage. Why aren’t we bothered by baby killing? Easy. It doesn’t immediately impact our lives.

We are an immediate-cause-and-effect people, desiring practical, expedient solutions to feed our selfishness. We can’t conceive that what is working out so great now could eventually lead to things working out horribly later. And that is a great sin indeed, when we serve an eternally holy God redeeming a forever people who are to be like him.

Men Applauding Murder

As long as we’re dwelling on hard, uncomfortable facts, we should notice that the women of Judah were the initiators of this idol worship. But they didn’t act alone. The men looked on approvingly.

The women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?” (Jeremiah 44:19)

The men commended the women in their folly and treachery, just as many men today commend the women who make it their life’s work to keep abortion “safe and legal” — a euphemism for “deadly and against God’s holy law.” And, perhaps less disgusting to us, there are Christian men who commend the pragmatism of doing what works over doing what God’s word says should be done.

The irony is that in worshiping the queen of heaven, the men of Judah are actually doing wrong by their wives. They had the authority and opportunity to steer them in a different direction, but they approved of the evil instead. It’s a lot easier to let your wife wander down the road of sin if everything seems to be working out okay, than to step in and take responsibility. Allegiance to God that outweighs allegiance to a wife would cost something: time, energy, and approval.

Bow to the King of Heaven

Thankfully, Jeremiah himself offers the solution to this tangle of sin and treachery and abomination. The antidote to healing the wound lightly (Jeremiah 6:14), which just means healing it superficially, is found in Jeremiah 6:16:

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

Jeremiah reminded the people that obeying God and his law was good for them. It was meant to give them rest. Yet, this isn’t good news for a people who have no heart to obey. What do we do when we can’t seem to walk in the way? What do we do when we see the ancient paths, but they look unappealing to us — too costly and very impractical?

We throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). We remember that he kept every bit of the law on our behalf, declaring us righteous, and now teaches us to obey as he did. We remember that we only find our life when we lose it — that Christ turns pragmatism on its head. His is the most ancient path, for “he is before all things” (Colossians 1:17). Only in Jesus is there rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29).

And we can draw encouragement from Judah, God’s wayward people. God took them through some dark days. There were dire consequences for their sin (see the book of Lamentations). But in the end, he preserved a remnant. In the end, this disobedient, treacherous people were the very people from whom our Savior would come. That’s a word of hope to anyone who is now bowing the knee to the queen of heaven, whether by conviction or pragmatism.

How Do We Respect Others While Rejecting Their False Beliefs?

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:00pm

How do we respect Buddhist priests? How about imams? Pastor John helps explain how to treat everyone with respect but still make our differences known.

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The Prayers Our Teens Need Most

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:11am

For one short season of our parenting journey, my husband and I felt as if we were hanging on to the reins of a runaway horse. Daily battles over curfews and negotiations around boundary lines had taken the place of warm conversation and laughter around the table. We mourned the loss as we searched for words to pray over family life in what felt like a war zone.

We were desperately trying to hold the line against hormonally fueled pressure to relax biblical standards of holiness in the home, while also negotiating the pressure of imminent college and career decisions, and it drove us to our knees. But at a time when prayer should have been a crucial lifeline, I found that I did not trust my own prayers for my teen children.

Could I even know what to ask God for when I was feeling unsure about my own motives? How does a mother ask God for help in dealing with the daily arguments without lapsing into imprecatory psalms?

Prayer in the Pressure Cooker

Because I’m of a practical frame of mind, my prayers for the people I love are mostly bound by everyday concerns. Even so, I am learning to embrace the prayers that God gives us in his word — prayers of much more lasting import than I’m usually inclined to pray.

Jesus’s prayer for his disciples in John 17 comes from the pressure cooker of his final earthly hours. In a dark and dismaying context of betrayal and mental anguish, he managed to put words around his deepest longings for his beloved friends. Following three years of intensive ministry, of loving and leading an unruly band of disciples (who were young adults themselves), Jesus poured out words of hope for their future. His prayer extended beyond their immediate impact to touch a world that still desperately needs to behold his glory.

Praying Jesus’s words for my teens lifts my eyes beyond every immediate need to the greater and more pressing concerns that Jesus voiced for his followers of all time, those who were with him at the Last Supper and those who sit around our dining room tables today.

1. Lord, they are yours.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me. . . . I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:6, 9)

Jesus was aware that each of his faithful disciples was a gift from God. He said it out loud as he prepared to leave them, trusting in the sanctifying power of God’s word to keep them (John 17:17).

Handing our children over to God when they were infants was relatively easy compared with the task of entrusting them to God’s care now that they are jingling car keys in their pockets and making their first financial decisions. “Lord, this boy is yours, and your love for him is more perfect and pure than my own” becomes an important admission on the way to a quiet heart. The power of the word and the Spirit is still at work, and is not diminished by my fear or my faithlessness.

2. Lord, make us one.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)

Jesus was born into a divided world. The us-versus-them of Jew-Gentile interactions that characterized first-century Palestine had been painted on a canvas of Roman occupation. He chose twelve disciples whose ideological bandwidth ran from political zealot to professional tax collector, and his prayer for unity among believers still reverberates along today’s ethnic and racial fault lines. In our pews and in our homes, God calls us to be one.

With the increasing independence and the natural pulling away of these teen years, I continue to pray that our family unity will be unharmed by the tug of opinions and politics or by the stretching that comes with geography and schedules. I pray that Jesus himself will unite us, despite all our differences and distance.

There is also an internal oneness or integrity that can feel elusive but is crucial to the spiritual formation of a young adult. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard defined purity of heart as the ability “to will one thing,” and my prayer for my believing young adults is that this “one thing” would be the glory of God.

3. Lord, keep them from evil.

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

On a dark night when evil seemed to have the upper hand, Jesus prayed for protection for those he loved. He knew that their effectiveness would require intimate contact with the world and all its messiness, but he put his trust in the power of God to keep them pure, faithful, and unstained.

One moment of inattention, a slip of judgment, an immature lack of discretion: there are ten thousand ways for a teen to fall unintentionally into evil. (And then there’s the strong possibility that they may go looking for it.)

Rather than allowing my imagination to manufacture hair-raising scenarios, I strive to follow the counsel of Paul Miller in A Praying Life. When we “turn our anxiety toward God,” he says, “we’ll discover that we’ve slipped into continuous praying” (57). That’s not a bad formula for surviving the teen years.

4. Lord, give them your joy.

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13)

Aware that joy might be in short supply among his disciples, Jesus prayed that they would go looking for it in the right places. The hatred of the world cannot quench the joy of the Lord.

Teens with indoor plumbing, high-speed internet, and access to antibiotics can still be chronically dissatisfied with life. The classic John Piper quote “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” forms my prayers for all my children. Jesus was consumed with rightly representing God’s glory (John 17:4), and my sons’ greatest joy will also be found in cooperating with God in the fulfillment of his will for his glory.

5. Lord, make them holy.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

As we faithfully hold on to the reins, as we pray for wisdom to provide both roots and wings to our growing children, it’s a relief to know that we can also release our teens into an independent pursuit of truth through God’s word. The questions they bring to the dinner table that make us choke on our meatloaf as we grope for a response are a good sign that internal processing is going on behind their eyes.

Pray that the Holy Spirit will use Scripture verses your children memorized in their elementary years. Introduce your teen to classic Christian literature and favorite podcasts that set the table for a feast on truth.

When parents pray over an open Bible, the words of Scripture wrap themselves around the desires of our hearts and give us the words we don’t have. Jesus ends his prayer for his disciples by offering himself, totally set apart for the Father’s will. Perhaps this is what our teens need most: parents with a single-minded determination to follow him. We will not do so perfectly, but our own stumbling progress toward discipleship puts us on the same road as our teens — and what a joy it is to be traveling toward Christ together.

What Does a Good Sermon Cost? The Glad Sacrifice of Christian Preaching

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 8:02pm

The Mondays. Sometimes they even creep into Sunday nights.

Various physical, emotional, and even spiritual letdowns often follow pouring yourself out in the pulpit. Lows that inevitably come after the highs of corporate worship. Regrets about what I didn’t say, or didn’t say quite right, or said and should not have. Even when “it went well” from all the preacher can tell, we feel an emotional deficit because of all it takes to prepare and deliver a sermon.

Maybe the most underrated aspect of the Mondays isn’t what’s now past, but what’s still ahead: next Sunday. Another week of preparation. Another seven days to shoulder the burden. Another week of pondering what to say, and the often harder work of what not to say. Another week of waiting on God to provide a word from his word to again feed and preserve the people.

Good Christian preaching and teaching requires regular, and at times enormous, self-sacrifice. In the preparation. In the moment. And outside the pulpit. It’s often a quiet, private, behind-the-scenes mantle the preacher’s wife and children see, but the congregation does not. It is not heavy lifting physically, but it can be unusually taxing spiritually and emotionally.

It is a burden good preachers gladly bear, and yet it is a burden.

Mid-Sermon Mirage

Every Christian knows what it’s like to hear a sermon, but very few know the personal costs involved in faithfully giving one. Hearing a sermon takes half an hour. Giving one takes days, if not weeks, and in some sense a lifetime. How easy it would be for a listener to sit comfortably in the pew thinking, I could do this, and better. It’s simple to see what he’s doing wrong. It would be a quick fix if he just asked for our help, right?

One of preaching’s many paradoxes is the disparity between how hard it is to stand up and preach well, and how easy it is to sit there and take it lightly.

Wouldn’t it be great if I were up there and telling people what I think? Wouldn’t it be nice to have all these people listen to my thoughts? All with little to no consideration of the actual pressure, the demands and deadlines, the dying to one’s own perfectionism and putting yourself forward to be misunderstood and criticized. Pride in some of us dreams of ourselves up front as the center of attention. Pride in others terrifies us from saying anything firm to so many, especially in public, face-to-face with a crowd of potential critics.

Pride will not only jump to speak when it’s puffed up, but button the lip when insecure. Preaching bids a man come and die to both.

Cost of Preparation

Preachers, aspiring preachers, and non-preachers alike do well to consider the costs of faithful word ministry in the church. The cost begins in preparation, long before the moment of delivery. Preachers often bear the burden weeks before a particular message, a weight that gets greater the week of, and is especially heavy the night before and morning of.

Perhaps the most stress comes in the pinch between a coming assignment, on a fixed day, and the uncertainty of what specific direction to take in the message. What does God want me to say to this people and at this time? The pinch is especially acute because the message we have been charged to give is not our own but God’s. “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Faithful preaching resists the allure of simply telling other people in public who we are and what we think and what we have done. Rather, it is a stewardship from God (Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10) to serve others, not self, by announcing the good news about who he is, what he thinks, and what he has done and will do, based on what he says in his word. “Whoever speaks, [let him do so] as one who speaks oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). We are stewards, and “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Before we graciously expose the church to the words of God, he calls us first to submit ourselves to him. To preach his words well requires that they first land hardest on the preacher himself. We bear another’s message, not our own. In our preparation, we carry a weight that involves not just the mental work of study, but the heart work of repentance and the spiritual work of shepherding a particular people.

Cost in the Moment

For Christians, corporate worship, in a real sense, is our most important hour of the week, and single most important habit. We want to be careful with this way of thinking and talking, because the importance of the hour lies not in our performance or individual roles, but in what God delights to do by his Spirit when his people gather together in worship. And yet it’s unavoidable that the preacher plays a significant part — which should humble God’s spokesman, not puff him up.

For preachers, the public nature of the sermon is both a necessity and a cost. It is necessary because the very nature of the task is heralding God’s word to his church. And it’s a cost because, among other pressures, most of us agree that public speaking is challenging. Survey after survey reports that on the whole, modern people fear public speaking more than anything else, including death.

Add to that the solemnity of the task, as Paul charges his protégé in 2 Timothy 4:1–2, of which John Piper writes, “There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in Scripture. . . . I am not aware of any other biblical command that has such an extended, exalted, intensifying introduction” (Expository Exultation, 66). Note the “five preceding intensifiers” to Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the word:

(1) I charge you
(2) in the presence of God
(3) and of Christ Jesus,
(4) who is to judge the living and the dead,
(5) and by his appearing and his kingdom:
Preach the word.

To those today who suspect previous generations overestimated the place of preaching, Piper comments, “I doubt that anyone has ever overstated the seriousness that Paul is seeking to awaken here.”

Beyond the solemnity of the moment is the call to courage. Public speaking is one challenge. Speaking into the church’s most important hour is another. Preaching with courage, when God’s word is at odds with the prevailing word in society (which inevitably takes root in the church in some form or fashion), requires even more. If we are faithful to God’s voice, it is almost certain that someone within earshot each Sunday, if not many, will not like what we are saying.

Preachers also are unusually exposed spiritually. Extended monologue, on God’s behalf, to human souls, unavoidably reveals a man’s own heart, both by what he says and what he does not — which produces a deep, unconscious aversion to preaching in many men.

Cost Outside the Pulpit

Finally, sacrifice in good preaching is intimately intertwined with the preacher’s own life. Faithful preaching is not just a once-in-a-while event but a lifestyle. Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the word includes “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) and “always be sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5). When a man stands before God’s people as God’s spokesman, the stakes are not only raised for his words in the moment but for his life outside the pulpit.

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)

The man who addresses God’s people as his herald will be looked to, inevitably, as an example. “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Lazy preachers may get by for a time, but their laziness will be revealed soon enough. “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15). Sunday after Sunday becomes a public demonstration of whether the preacher is growing or stagnant, and it will be plain over time (1 Timothy 4:24).

One of the greatest costs outside the pulpit is the subtle (and at times not-so-subtle) way the preacher’s wife and children endure the ups and downs Daddy navigates. It is no small thing to carry the height of one’s vocational responsibilities during the weekend, when the kids are out of school and most available. It takes work, and emotional fortitude, to give yourself fully to family all day Saturday, without being distracted by the task of preaching to dozens or hundreds of hungry Christians in less than 24 hours.

My Burden Gladly Bearing

Yes, the costs are great, and aspiring preachers should count them, but when God lays hold on a man to make him his herald — in preparation, in the moment, and outside the pulpit — he will gladly bear the burden, like a husband and a father, for the sake of those God calls him to lead, provide for, and protect. Faithful preachers say to their people, as Paul said to his, without pretense, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15).

True preaching is not easy work, but good preachers do it with joy. The kind of week in, week out investment that is most beneficial to the church is the preaching done, with all its attendant costs, with gladness. “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). Pastors who bear the burden begrudgingly do not bless their people so much as those who do so happily — “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3).

What will a faithful sermon cost your pastor this Sunday? Much more than you might think.

An Assassin in American Christianity

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 8:00am

An assassin lingers in our Christianity. It kills churches, kills people, kills families. It tells us that loving God means the same thing as obeying him.

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Ask Someone Older Than You

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 8:02pm

When your next major decision comes — what house to buy, where to go school, who to marry — do the wise and unexpected thing: Ask someone older than you.

Most people in America, for instance, get married today without getting serious counsel. They meet each other, go on a few dates, get more serious, decide they want to get married, then tell people they’re getting married. They may keep a couple close friends up to date through the process, but they barely have a category for “counsel” — much less counsel from someone older. So, they wed without guidance. And according to Proverbs 11:14, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls.” Many marriages fall the same way.

“Without counsel plans fail” (Proverbs 15:22), and not only wedding plans. Do you want to take the wrong job, or buy the wrong house, or join the wrong church? Then ignore the godly people in your life who made those decisions years ago (and have seen many others do so).

But if you want to marry well, choose well, and commit well, then ask someone older than you.

Counsel for Seeking Counsel

Consider King Rehoboam as a case study in refusing good counsel. Unlike many today, Rehoboam did seek guidance from his elders, but how he handled their wisdom is a warning to any of us. If we never ask someone older than us, we’re warmly inviting adversity, affliction, and even disaster. But even when we do ask, subtle (or obvious) opportunities arise to despise wisdom. Rehoboam teaches us how not to seek counsel.

1. Ask someone older than you.

Rehoboam started well: “[He] took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’” (1 Kings 12:6). When we are confronted with a difficult or complicated decision, one aspect of wisdom is to ask “the old men” (or women).

Many of us don’t even think to ask for counsel. We just do the best we can with what we have and know on our own. Even those of us who do ask for counsel often neglect to ask someone older than us. We ask our peers, typically those experiencing the same dilemmas and making the same decisions, and with the same shortage of life experience. Our friends know us best, and they’re most immediately familiar with our stage of life, so we assume they must be the best people to ask.

But age and experience have a place in the pursuit of wisdom. Job says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). So, ask someone with (many) more days than you.

2. Don’t make up your mind beforehand.

When you do ask someone older for counsel, resist the impulse to make up your mind beforehand. The older men advised Rehoboam, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7). Not only is the counsel wise, but it also benefits Rehoboam. If, as king, you strive to serve the needs of the people and lessen the burdens on them, they will never stop serving you.

“But [Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him” (1 Kings 12:8). When they gave him counsel he didn’t like, he rejected it and retreated to his friends. He wasn’t really looking for counsel; he was looking for approval. And if we’re only looking for approval, wise counsel will fall on deaf ears.

If you only receive counsel when it agrees with you, you’re not really receiving counsel. When you go to others older than you, fight to keep your mind genuinely open to what they have to say.

3. If they disagree with your direction, seek to be persuaded.

So, if someone older than you disagrees with you, should you just do what they say? Maybe. But not always. Rehoboam wasn’t necessarily wrong to disagree with his counselors, but he was unwise to disregard their counsel so flippantly and arrogantly. Instead of listening well, pressing into their seasoned perspective, asking good questions, and seeking to understand, Rehoboam just dismissed them and took an easier path to approval: his peers.

If someone older, who manifestly loves you, disagrees with you, take a default posture of humility and openness, genuinely seeking to be persuaded. “You who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Don’t just tuck humility in your pocket in case you need it in the conversation. Clothe yourself in humility, because God gives grace to the humble — to those gladly willing to admit that they might be wrong.

4. Beware of counsel from people just like you.

“King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father” (1 Kings 12:6) — men who had lived and led, succeeded and failed, suffered and persevered. “But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him” (1 Kings 12:8) — young men with whom he was more comfortable, boys who were more like him.

Why do we, like Rehoboam, default to our peers? Positively, because they typically know us best. And they’re often the most available (they’re already a part of our life). But negatively, they’re most likely to agree with us. Not always. Good friends are hard to find, but they do exist. But whether they are good friends or not, peers consistently lack the same wisdom we do — the wisdom that often comes with age, maturity, and experience. We do need counsel from our friends because they know us. The danger is that they’re more like us.

One way to avoid pitting older, wiser counsel against counsel from your friends is to make someone older than you a friend. Pursue a real, life-on-life friendship with someone in a different stage of life. When you already have an ongoing friendship with that person, you don’t have to bring them up to speed on the last five years in five minutes to get informed counsel. They already know you and are ready to speak into your life.

5. Beware of counsel that serves you at the expense of others.

Perhaps the brightest warning in Rehoboam’s story is that his friends’ advice encouraged him to serve himself at the expense of others. They cheered on his pride, and told him to threaten the people, “Thus shall you speak to this people . . . ‘Whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’” (1 Kings 12:10–11).

True wisdom will be suspicious of any advice, from young or old, that elevates me and my desires while hurting someone else. Some decisions may end up hurting others to some degree — whom we marry or don’t, where we live and work, what church we join — but counsel that elevates me to the unnecessary pain or inconvenience of others should give us considerable pause. We should weigh that kind of guidance with even more prayer, counsel, and patience.

6. Pride is the enemy of wise counsel.

Why does Rehoboam reject good counsel and accept the bad? Because the older men called him to humble himself, while the younger men stoked the fires of his pride. They provoked him, “Thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs’” (1 Kings 12:10). His friends knew that Rehoboam would come down hard on the people if they questioned his manhood — his strength, his independence, his ability to make his own decisions. Satan seeds our thinking with the lie that real maturity is being able to make decisions on our own.

God doesn’t leave us to make any major decisions on our own. He wants us, first, to lean on him and ask for his wisdom (James 1:5). And typically what it means to lean on him involves listening well to godly people in our lives, especially godly men and women who have lived and learned more than we have. If we isolate our decision-making from other believers, we not only forfeit sage perspective and good judgment, we also may “be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

Nothing keeps more of us from good counsel than our own pride, especially when it comes to asking someone older than us.

What About Bad Counsel?

Now, not every believer older than you will be wiser than you, at least not in any given situation. The psalmist declares,

I have more understanding than all my teachers,
     for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
     for I keep your precepts. (Psalms 119:99–100)

If you only ask someone older, and never meditate on the word of God, and therefore are not shaped by his wisdom, how will you recognize bad counsel (or know how to handle wise counsel)? If you jealously seek advice from the aged, but do not seek to obey God himself, you will horde the wisdom of the age, but not the wisdom of God.

Job’s friend Elihu, wise beyond his years, rightly says, “It is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right” (Job 32:8–9). But even while the older men spoke foolishly, “Elihu waited to speak to Job because they were older than he” (Job 32:4).

Wisdom doesn’t end with asking someone older than you. We begin there, but then vigilantly seek God’s will in whatever advice we hear. When you ask for counsel, make sure God’s voice in Scripture is always the loudest in your ears. Ask someone older than you, and then ask if their voice harmonizes with his word.

Piper’s Reflections After a Mainline Church Service

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 8:00pm

Pastor John shares six tragic observations from a mainline church, and a helpful report card to check our tendencies to make assumptions about God.

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What Is Lust?

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 8:02am

Few things have destroyed more marriages, stolen more joy, or strangled more souls than lust. Do you know how to fight it?

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Haters Gon’ Hate: A Liberating Truth for People Pleasers

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 8:01pm

Word on the street was that Greg started a cult.

The rumor began with someone I thought was a friend. A big name on the university football team, a go-to on the field — a hater behind my back.

When I heard what he was saying, my first response was frustration. If the natural response is fight or flight, I found myself gravitating toward the former. But God was gracious, and soon I calmed down.

The emotion that took its place next, however, caught me off guard: regret. Had I said something too extreme? Had I been a little too vocal? Should I have lingered a little more at their parties and laughed a little more at their jokes? I failed to win him. And now, how many others would stay away from our Bible study because of his slander?

When the World Hates You

From there, the descent was gradual. I started to be invited out less and less. I saw pictures of different parties and cabin getaways on Facebook. Lines began to be drawn, and I was on the other side. Wallowing in self-pity and shame, wishing I had been a cooler Christian, Jesus confronted me one night through his word.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20)

Maybe I was excluded and lied about, not because I failed as an evangelist, but instead because King Jesus had chosen me. Maybe Christ was the cause. Maybe I was not of this world. If I was of this world, Jesus had said, the world would love me as its own. But if I was his own, the world would persecute me.

That night in God’s word, my weaning from people pleasing began. One of the most liberating, expectation-changing, Jesus-endorsed truths that set me free was the tried and true statement, Haters gon’ hate.

Haters Gon’ Hate

Before that night, I had sinful expectations. Secretly, I was hoping to be loved by God and the world. Secretly, I wanted God to change my life but not my reputation. I didn’t want to be a Ned Flanders. I wanted to be liked — for Christ or otherwise. I, the servant, had expected to be treated more favorably than my Master — and the world chose a murderer over him.

But I was not greater than my Master. I would not — and should not — be liked by everyone. Jesus wasn’t. I should be thought well of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7) — many should see a good lifestyle and approve of it — but Jesus’s word to every follower of his would come to pass: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22).

Through my teammate’s slander, some at the university were defriending me. Instead of this being an embarrassment or a failure, it was the natural consequence of being Christ’s. I was a citizen of another realm, no longer who I used to be. And as E.T. illustrated way back in the 80s, people often dislike what they do not understand.

How to Be Loved by All

Do you expect to be liked by everyone?

Paul taught that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). He did not say, “Just the awkward, hyper-spiritual, loud-mouthed-and-lacking-love believer.” He said all. And to help us, God gave us a book full of godly, yet hated men and women pursuing righteousness.

Are you more well-liked than your Master?

No amount of winsomeness or political correctness will make us loveable to a world that crucified our Jesus, if he really is our Lord. And we shouldn’t seek to be the world’s friend: “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). What will it take to make the world love us as its own? Compromise.

Proclaim Christ a little less; indulge a little more. Hide your light under a basket. Become less salty. Keep your faith to yourself. Warm yourself at the fires of this world, and keep it low-key. But Jesus offers a warning and a blessing to pierce the temptation to people please through compromise:

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22)

Beware when all speak well of you. Be surprised if no one despises your faith, your zeal, your singular devotion to Christ. Examine yourself if you never give offense to anyone. You may be seeking to receive your glory from men instead of God (John 5:44). You may be striving to please man in a way that disqualifies you from serving Christ (Galatians 1:10).

But blessed are you when they hate and exclude you for his name’s sake. Blessed are you when haters hate, for it is evidence that you are his (John 15:19). “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13), but rejoice. For “it has been granted [literally, “graced”] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). Endure, and you will be sons of the Most High, and your treasure will be great in heaven (Luke 6:23).

How to Respond to Haters

Expecting the antagonism of our neighbors, co-workers, and family members is one of the first steps to actually loving them. If we never expect enemies, we might spend our lives trying to make sure we don’t have enemies instead of accepting it and doing good to them anyways. But Jesus assumes the world’s hostility and commands,

“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35–36)

The world loves those who love them back. But when our enemies hate us — and some will — we return them good. As Charles Spurgeon quipped, kindness is our revenge. Goodness heaps hot coals on their heads (Romans 12:20), and finds a way to do it in love.

But it is hard to avenge ourselves with love when we are frantically trying to get everyone to like us. We can spend so much time trying to avoid being disliked that we never give much thought to how to respond when hate inevitably comes. We double down on our efforts to win them over, often by concealing our love for Jesus, instead of being who he has made us while doing good. God says that some will never be our friends, and he instructs us on how to respond to them: with love.

Happy to Be Hated

Carl Trueman observes, “A man without enemies is a man without honor.” Jesus says that a Christian without enemies is a servant unlike his Lord. And a man unlike Christ is not truly wise or happy.

Yet Jesus says,

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22–23)

What the world excludes, God calls blessed. The one spurned, reviled, rejected, for Christ’s name, is called child. Haters are gonna hate us because they hated him first (John 15:18). But when they do, our response is not fear, sorrow, anger, or regret. It is a joy that leaps at being associated with Christ and a love that avenges their hate with kindness.

Six Ways to Put Away Pride

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 8:01am

We look like Jesus most when we stoop down to support others. The path to true greatness leads to servanthood.

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Unashamed of the Bible: Ten Aspirations for Christian Communicators

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 8:02pm

No matter which way my mind turns these days, I cannot escape the absolutely unique and essential role that the Bible plays in God’s purpose for the universe, and for history, and for the church, and for Christian schools, and for our personal lives, both now and in eternity.

Our way of thinking and feeling and acting toward the Bible, and with the Bible, and from the Bible is decisive in whether our lives, schools, and churches conform to God’s saving, Christ-exalting purposes for history and for all of creation.

Think of the staggering implications for the billions of people around the world, including most of the highest and lowest educated, most of the rich and most of the poor — people of every tongue and tribe and nation, men and women, young and old, who virtually never orient what they think or feel or do around what God has revealed in the Bible.

Without the Bible

This is staggering because, without rightly discerning what is revealed only in the Bible, we cannot know the most important realities in life.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the true nature of God and the beauty of his holiness.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that magnifying God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of the universe.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that the way God has appointed for his glory to be most fully magnified is through a people who are supremely and eternally happy in him.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the eternal divinity of Christ, the Son of God, and that all things were made through him and for him.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that all things that exist — from galaxies to molecules — are held in existence by the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God.

Without the Bible, we cannot know that the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the unsearchable riches of Christ’s achievements on the cross — his propitiation of the wrath of God, his enduring the curse of the law, his bearing the condemnation of the elect, his becoming sin though he knew no sin, his bearing the weight of the iniquities of all his people, his purchasing forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, escape from hell, entrance into eternal life, and God’s yes to all the promises of Scripture for his people.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the way of salvation by grace through faith as a gift of God apart from works of the law.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the almighty power of the Holy Spirit raising us from spiritual death, and granting us new birth, and giving us new hearts, and sealing us for God’s possession through faith, and preserving us to the day of Christ and forever.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the true path of holiness and how the Holy Spirit by faith works in us the fruits of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of the church with Christ as the head of the body, and all the hosts of heaven watching as the wisdom of God is played out in the gathering of the redeemed from all the peoples of the world.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of marriage as a God-designed drama of the covenant love between Christ and his church.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the meaning of our own physical bodies as bought with Christ’s blood for the housing of the Spirit of God.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the dimensions of literature and art which approximate ultimate truth.

Without the Bible, we cannot know the source and goal of science.

And without the Bible, we cannot know how to love anyone fully — that is, in a way that does them everlasting good.

We can know none of these things in a saving way — that is, in a way that does anyone, ourselves or others, any lasting good — apart from rightly discerning what is revealed in the Bible. And therefore, all the aims of communication, apart from a right handling of the Bible, come to naught.

Therefore, more and more, it has seemed to me that the future God-glorifying faithfulness, and Spirit-dependent obedience, and Christ-exalting fruitfulness in our churches, and in our schools and institutions, and in our lives, depend on a certain way of thinking and feeling about the Bible.

So my ten aspirations for Christian communicators, whether pastors, preachers, writers, teachers, editors, parents, or friends, are all formulated in relation to that — our thinking and our feeling about the Bible.

Hearts That Hear

Someone may ask — indeed I ask — “But don’t deep heart realities of humility, and spiritual life, and submission to God, and sensitivity to spiritual reality precede and enable a right handling of the Bible? And shouldn’t that be the goal of Christian schools and ministries — to cultivate a kind of heart and mind that creates the humility and submissiveness that then is yielded to everything the Bible teaches?”

Certainly, we should have a commitment to those deeper realities. But here’s the catch: the only reason we know that such realities must exist before the Bible can be known and loved and handled as it ought to be is that the Bible teaches us that they must.

The Bible teaches us that something deeper than the Bible makes it possible for the human heart to submit to the Bible. Therefore, how will we ever articulate and justify the goal to pursue something in the heart deeper than the Bible without using the Bible?

This means that among our aspirations for Christian writing and preaching and teaching must be that we would handle the Bible in ways that make it likely for us to find in the Bible everything we need to find there in order to use the Bible rightly.

Ten Aspirations

So let me suggest ten aspirations, or aims, for Christian communicators as they relate to how we think and feel and act toward the Bible.

1. Embrace Inerrancy

Let us make it our aim that every pastor and teacher, every faculty member and administrator, every writer and speaker will give joyful and hearty assent to the complete truthfulness — that is, inerrancy — of the Bible in all that it teaches.

2. Be Unashamed

Let us make it our aim that we will be unashamed of everything that the Bible describes as the will of God as it was or is to be done when God appointed for it to be done. For example, unashamed of God’s command in the book of Joshua that all the Canaanites be killed. Unashamed of his permission of polygamy and divorce and slavery in the Old Testament. Unashamed of his command that Isaiah walk around naked. Unashamed of the inspired writers’ holy hatred of wicked people — in the Psalms, for example. Unashamed of the creation of the world six thousand years ago, if that’s what the text teaches. Unashamed of the command that spiritually qualified men, rather than women, be the elders of churches and the heads of two-parent families. Unashamed that there is only one way of salvation — through knowing and believing the gospel of Christ. Unashamed of the teaching that those who practice homosexuality or greed or drunkenness or reviling or swindling, and are unrepentant, will suffer eternally in hell.

For if we are embarrassed by parts of the Bible, the love of human approval over God’s approval has begun to take root. And this root is the source of much defection from biblical truth, especially in the academic life (John 5:44).

3. Pursue the Authors’ Intentions

Let us aim to be committed to all the teaching of the Bible in such a way that congregants and readers and students are equipped to pay detailed attention to its words and phrases and clauses and logic, and to penetrate through these human instruments to the authors’ mental, emotional, and behavioral intentions, and to the great realities that they are trying to communicate.

4. Build a Biblical Vision of Reality

Let us aim to build teams that reflect so deeply on the realities of Scripture in relationship to all other observations in all other disciplines that students and readers are enabled to see the profound relevance of the biblical vision of reality for everything they think and study, so that there will be no embarrassment whatsoever that we relate everything to Scripture, and test everything by Scripture, because we have discovered that God’s revelation about the world can never be superficial or irrelevant.

5. Speak with Precision

Let us aim to handle the Scriptures with such precision, and care, and insight, and spiritual illumination, and experiential authenticity, that we do not default to speaking in vague generalities about God’s will and God’s way, but actually are able to point to specific verses in the Bible where glorious reality is revealed and where the will of God and the ways of God are made explicit, and can do so in such a way that we happily cite the very words of Scripture with little concern whether we are criticized of proof texting. In other words, let it stand as a continual warning that for the last hundred years those who reject the reality behind Scripture have done so while continuing to use Christian language, but avoiding precise textual citations.

6. Love the Languages

Let us aim to put a high premium in our pastoral training on the mastering of Greek and Hebrew to the extent that future preachers have sufficient confidence that when they interpret the Greek and Hebrew text of the Old and New Testaments, they are extracting the author’s intention, and are in touch with the reality God is revealing behind and through the text. Let us never allow the pragmatic pressure for pastors to be more immediately helpful to diminish our confidence that the teaching of Greek and Hebrew will, in fact, make them even more helpful in the long run in the church of Christ.

7. Cultivate Habits of Heart

Let us aim to make the Bible so foundational and so pervasive in all aspects of our college and seminary curricula that it is never seen to be the purview of only one department, like biblical studies, rather than being essential to every department, such that students really do perceive that the serious study of Scripture deepens their capacities in six habits of heart: observation, understanding, evaluation, feeling, application, and expressing. Let us seek to make the Bible so prominent and so pervasive and so profoundly relevant in dealing with every kind of subject matter that students grow in their confidence that what can be known only through the Bible enhances and deepens and clarifies and empowers everything they learn from other sources.

8. Celebrate the Relevance

Let us aim to handle the Bible in such a way that the Bible will always stand out to those who read what we write, and hear what we say, as a source of utterly timely, relevant, and indispensable divine revelation concerning the world we live in. Let us never give the impression that this Book is somehow dated, or passé, or irrelevant, but in fact is brimming with the kind of human, historical, cultural, social, psychological, relational wisdom that goes deeper, and lasts longer, than the passing trends of all the humanities and social and physical sciences.

9. Display Contagious Esteem

Let us aim to teach and explain the Bible in such a way, and live the Bible in such a way, as to encourage and equip and empower future pastors and teachers and writers to communicate in a way that those who hear them will recognize their highest esteem for the authority and wisdom and value of the Bible, and will be thankful, and even amazed, at the treasures that they share from Scripture for the living of the Christian life with all its joys and sorrows.

10. Pray Earnestly and Continually

Let us aim to cultivate an ethos of earnest and continual prayer for the God-given humility and illumination that not only opens us to the deepest and richest meaning of what the Bible teaches, but also enables us to see the self-authenticating glory of God in and through the text, which provides the foundation of our unshakable confidence in the divine origin and authority and universal relevance of the Bible.

If God would be pleased, in his mercy and power, to fulfill these aims in the years to come, I believe that the God-glorifying faithfulness, and Spirit-dependent obedience, and Christ-exalting fruitfulness of our churches and ministries and academic institutions would exceed all our expectations.

What Can We Learn from the Jordan Peterson Phenomenon?

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 8:00pm

Jordan Peterson has a bestselling book and a fast-growing following, especially among young men. What should Christians learn from him?

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Safe Beneath His Sovereign God: Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 8:02pm

In the spring of 1750, the central discussion at Northampton Church in southern Massachusetts was not how to honor their faithful pastor for almost a quarter century of diligent labors among them. Rather, it was how to most expeditiously get rid of him. In late June, the church held a series of meetings, and they summarily fired their pastor by a vote of 10 to 1 — of the 253 voting members, 230 voted for him to be dismissed, and 23 for him to stay.

Why were the people pointing fingers instead of offering warm handshakes to their pastor, Jonathan Edwards?

Because faithfulness to God often earns the madness of the world.

His World

We’ll return to this great lesson from Edwards’s life for us — how to be softened and gentle-ized by pain instead of hardened and calloused by it. But first, we will briefly consider his world, his wiring, his ministry, his family, and his troubles.

Edwards entered this world in 1703. Two events the next year, while Edwards was still an infant on his mother’s lap, communicate both the beauty and the barbarity of the world at that time.

On the one hand, Bach’s first cantata was performed in Germany in 1704. The baroque period was in full swing with its magnificent development of combined melody and harmony by a full orchestra. Cultural elegance was flourishing.

That same year, in Edwards’s part of the world, the French and Indians attacked the English town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, just fifteen miles down the road from the home into which he was born. In all, 44 villagers were massacred — 10 men, 9 women, and 25 children — and another 112 were carried off, through two feet of snow, many dying on the road.

Such was life in early 1700s New England. No antibiotics existed for the smallpox, diphtheria, scarlet fever, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other common diseases. Between violence and disease, 35 percent of those born in colonial New England failed to reach adulthood. If you came down with a fever, you might be dead within a week.

Into this wilderness on the edge of the world — the population of New York City at that time was eight thousand — Jonathan Edwards was born.

But who was he?

His Wiring

Jonathan Edwards was a skinny, reserved pastor who died with fewer than three hundred books in his personal library. And yet, he is considered by historians, Christian and secular alike, to be the most brilliant thinker yet born on this continent — and he also happens to be one of church history’s godliest men, and perhaps the most penetrating diagnostician of the human heart who has ever lived.

Temperamentally, Edwards was introverted. Intellectually, he was brilliant. Physically, he was frail. Interpersonally, he was retiring. Psychologically, he was intensely introspective. Spiritually, he was enchanted with gospel realities.

And — as the historians never fail to tell us — he was a little stiff relationally. Edwards spent thirteen hours a day in his study for stretches of his life. But in the economy of the way God works, it’s often those who appear most aloof and unpleasant on the outside who prove themselves to be the most trustworthy and delightful Christians in reality, while those who appear most immediately magnetic and easygoing up front turn out to be the most frothy and unreliable.

His Ministry

Jonathan Edwards was always drawn to words more than people, and his life unfolded accordingly — schooled in language and history by his own father (a pastor), admitted to Yale College as an undergraduate at age 14, and going on to earn an M.A. at Yale before he turned 20.

After a few brief pastorates in New York City and Connecticut (1722–24), Edwards spent three years as a “tutor” at Yale (1724–26) — basically a combination between junior professor and dean of students, both teaching and disciplining.

During these years of pastoring and tutoring, Edwards experienced vital spiritual breakthroughs that would inform his theology and ministry the rest of his life. One especially significant breakthrough was coming into a belief about the sovereignty of God. But it wasn’t simply a matter of being convinced intellectually about divine sovereignty. Rather — and his description of this episode is why so many of us cannot get enough of Edwards’s writings — this particular point of theology exploded onto his mental horizon as a matter of profound joy.

From my childhood up, my mind had been wont to be full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. . . . God’s absolute sovereignty, and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of anything that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times.

But I have oftentimes since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty, than I had then. I have often since, not only had a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. (“Personal Narrative,” emphasis added)

In 1726 Edwards was called to work alongside his venerable 83-year-old grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, who had been pastoring the church at Northampton for 56 years at that point. If you imagine being John MacArthur’s grandson, and being called to succeed him as a 23-year-old, you’ll get a sense of what Edwards would have experienced in joining the most influential Christian leader in the Connecticut River Valley at that time.

Edwards would spend 24 years at the church, experiencing a local revival in 1734–35 as well as being part of the transatlantic Great Awakening in 1740–42. His church was visited and he was personally befriended by the great British evangelist George Whitefield. He dutifully preached week in and week out, wrote books as he was able, visited his people, and endured all the typical adversities of pastoral ministry — and more.

His Family

Perhaps Edwards’s greatest ministry legacy was his family. He and his wife, Sarah, had eleven children together, and the tidal wave of blessing that flowed through Jonathan Edwards and his offspring cannot be adequately quantified. Historian and Edwards biographer George Marsden tells us of a famous research project published in the year 1900 that traced out 1,200 of Edwards’s descendants and compared them with the descendants of an infamously notorious criminal who lived during the same time period. The descendants of the well-known criminal, writes Marsden,

left a legacy that included more than three hundred “professional paupers,” fifty women of ill repute, seven murderers, sixty habitual thieves, and one hundred and thirty other convicted criminals. The Edwards family, by contrast, produced scores of clergymen, thirteen presidents of institutions of higher learning, sixty-five professors, and many persons of notable achievements. (Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 500–501)

We get a glimpse into Edwards’s own role as the fountainhead of such a family tree in a journal entry by his daughter Esther after a visit from her father during a distressing time of increased hostilities from the French and Indians in the region.

Last eve I had some free discourse with My Father. . . . I opened my difficulties to him very freely and he as freely advised and directed. The conversation has removed some distressing doubts that discouraged me much in my Christian warfare. . . . What a mercy that I have such a Father! Such a Guide!

His spiritual legacy, evidenced in the personal diary of one of his own daughters, shows the power and significance of putting private ministry to one’s family ahead of public ministry to the church and the world.

His Troubles

His church was not filled with starry-eyed Jonathan Edwards fanboys. Bernard Bartlett, member of Northampton Church, distributed a pamphlet in 1735 asserting that his pastor “was as Great an Instrument as the Devil Had on this Side of Hell to bring Souls to Hell.” Edwards had his critics, as he had been promised (John 15:20). Indeed, the church there in Northampton was riddled with political power struggles due to a complex web of extended-family connections throughout.

Edwards must have battled loneliness. The only real friends he had beyond his family were his younger protégés, like Joseph Bellamy or David Brainerd, and a handful of pastors in Scotland befriended through correspondence.

Another trouble was spiritual apathy from his congregation. We may think of Edwards’s preaching as consistently entrancing, but this is far from true. He complained at one point of the way his parishioners would stretch themselves out on the pew to sleep while he preached. Perhaps even more cutting to the heart of a faithful pastor is not outright rejection but tepid boredom and being ignored.

His Dismissal

Edwards’s church troubles came to a head in 1749–50. The presenting issue was a theological disagreement over the Lord’s Supper, though Edwards expert John Gerstner believed that the doctrinal dispute was simply a smoke screen covering up a deeper antipathy by fleshly congregants to Edwards’s unrelenting portrayals of a supremely beautiful God — portrayals enchanting to the regenerate but threatening to the worldly.

And so Edwards found himself getting fired in those meetings in June 1750. The testimony of a sympathetic pastor in the area, Rev. David Hall, captures the heart of what Jonathan Edwards has to teach us today.

I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week, but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies, and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good, overbalancing all imaginable ills of life.

He was kicked out of his church, though he came back to preach because the congregation had trouble finding suitable pulpit supply in the subsequent months. Edwards spent the next seven years in an even more remote part of Massachusetts, preaching and ministering to some Indians and a few white families. In 1758 he reluctantly accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), but he died within a few months of arriving.

His Lifeline

In light of the adversity he faced, I want to close with a question. What, for Jonathan Edwards, was the result of the following equation?

God’s sovereignty + my pain = __________

Divine coldness? Fatalism?

Here is the answer for Edwards, which is the secret to sitting through catastrophic rejection with a happiness that is out of the reach of circumstances: Edwards had happily nestled into the conviction that the entire universe and all of human history — down to the particular flutter angle of a falling leaf or footfall of an ant outside his Northampton home — were the inexorable outworking of a heavenly rule and plan so comprehensive that they know no ceiling or boundaries.

But why is this not mere fate?

Because fate is impersonal; divine sovereignty is personal. And the Person controlling all things is Love himself. The very existence of the universe is, according to Edwards, the overflow of joyous love within the Trinity, a love too great to be restricted to God himself, superabounding, creating a world so that humans can be swept up into this love. That is the One providentially ruling all matters great and small.

So, when ordinary faithfulness earned him the rejection of his church members instead of their embrace, Edwards did not go into psychological meltdown. He already had a deeper embrace, held by one whom Edwards knew ordered all things. When 230 people voted to fire him, Edwards knew that it was God dismissing him from Northampton Church. Why get bitter at the people? A greater mind was ordering his life. God’s love was working through their hate.

And why? To get him to Stockbridge, where he would write several of his most enduring treatises at the height of his intellectual powers. That’s why. To bring to fulfillment God’s deeper purposes for his life. And a thousand other reasons we won’t know till heaven.

Edwards didn’t know what turns his life would take as he sat there getting fired in late June 1750. But he had settled his heart into the tranquil conviction that from heaven’s perspective, all was going according to plan. So he quieted his spirit. He calmly submitted. He yielded to God’s sovereignty.

Divine sovereignty plus our pain equals fresh tenderness of submission and trust. God’s sovereignty, given God’s love and beauty, gentle-izes us.

Philippians 2:14–18: Faith Is More Precious Than Life

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 8:02am

If we lose everything but gain Christ, we’ve lost nothing.

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How Not to Worship Your Worship

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 8:01pm

It was almost forty years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

At the end of an evening church meeting, we flowed seamlessly into an “afterglow service.” For the first time in my life I heard and sang these words, penned by Laurie Klein:

I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship you. O my soul, rejoice.
Take joy, my King, in what you hear.
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.

I was moved to tears, not simply by the beautiful melody, but by the realization that my ultimate desire in life really was to love the Lord. To be pleasing to him, to bring him delight. In the seemingly constant swirl of worldly temptations, sensual distractions, and seasons of apathy, I had a moment of clarity. I loved the Lord.

Importance of the Heart

Telling the Lord how we feel about him is a healthy and natural part of our relationship with him.

To proclaim true things about God without actually loving him can have disastrous consequences. As Puritan John Owen warns us, “Where light leaves the affections behind, it ends in formality or atheism.”

We see that emphasis in the pages of Scripture. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of their highest priority: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

The Psalms are filled with expressions of passion for God: singing for joy to God, seeking him, thirsting for him, rejoicing in him, desiring him, and more (Psalm 84:2; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 64:10; Psalm 73:25). Quoting Isaiah, Jesus rebuked a people who “honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Peter reminds us that though we have not seen Jesus, we love him, and we rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8).

So it’s only right that phrases of affection for God should find their way into the lyrics of the songs the church sings. And they do: Jesus, we love you. . . . I give my all to you. . . . I worship you. . . . I want to praise you. . . . I’m lost without you. . . . My Jesus, I love thee.

How Not to Worship

And yet, it’s possible to become imbalanced. When our songs and prayers are dominated by what we think and feel about God and focus less on who he is and what he thinks and feels about us, we run the risk of fueling our emotions with more emotion. We can end up worshiping our worship.

What thoughts can bring balance when we’re expressing our affections for God in song? I can think of at least four.

1. The scriptural evidence for praise as an expression of our love for God is thin.

Oddly enough, there are only two verses in the Psalms where the writer says explicitly that he loves the Lord. The first is Psalm 18:1: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” The second is Psalm 116:1: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” In contrast, the psalmists reference the Lord’s steadfast, loyal, covenant love for his people well more than a hundred times.

2. Our feelings are fickle.

It’s encouraging to get caught up in a moment of passion for the Lord, as I was so many years ago. But what happens when your love for God wanes? When the words, “I love you, Lord,” sound hypocritical on your lips? It’s in those seasons especially that I need to be reminded that my relationship with God isn’t fueled or sustained by my devotion to him, but his to me. And that devotion was demonstrated most clearly and completely when he gave his only Son as he hung on the cross, enduring the punishment I deserved for my sins.

3. Worship in song is more than simply responding.

Contrary to what many think, singing to God is more than expressing our feelings for him. Colossians 3:16 says we’re “teaching and admonishing” each other. Ephesians 5:19 says we’re “addressing one another.” Singing is an educational experience! We’re reminding each other of what God has said, what he’s like, what he’s done, and why all those truths make him so worthy of our praise, affection, and obedience.

4. We show our love for God through obeying his commands, not simply by singing about our feelings for him.

My wife and I are committed to telling each other, “I love you.” In texts, emails, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations. But if our words aren’t backed up by acts of joyful service, sacrifice, and generosity, they sound empty, even self-serving. Pouring out our hearts to God in song can be edifying. But it can too easily substitute for the more important worship of our lives that’s revealed through obeying God’s commands and loving those around us.

In This Is Love

It’s good to be amazed that I love the Lord. But if I’m viewing things clearly, the more wondrous, more foundational reality is that he loves me — in my sin, my failings, my apathy, my distractedness, my inadequacy, my pride, my self-centeredness, my hypocrisy, and my self-pity.

It’s a life-transforming truth that we need to be reminded of again and again. So yes, let us sing, “I love you, Lord,” with gratefulness. And let’s spend even more time dwelling on the infinitely greater love that fuels and enables ours: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

My Real Recovery from Anorexia

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 11:02am

Eating disorders thrive on secrets. If you struggle with one, perhaps I can guess yours.

Your eating disorder is not just about food, but feelings. It’s not just about your stomach, but your heart. It’s not just about your diet, but about much bigger questions:

Who am I?

How can I be accepted?

Who can I trust?

What is life all about?

Your issues run deeper than size. You’re wrestling with desires and questions that are too big to name, let alone face. You’re afraid. Maybe you starve those fears. Maybe you swallow them. Maybe you pound them out at the gym or purge them in the bathroom. Whatever the shape of your struggle, there is hope. There is a future. There is a God who is wooing “you out of distress into a broad place” (Job 36:16). I should know. Your story is my story.

One voice has always whispered more loudly to me than the rest. “Fat,” it said. “You’re fat.”

Fat is not a dress size. It’s not how I look in the mirror. Fat is my unsatisfied hunger. Fat is my fears, my shame, and my mistakes. Fat is me — too shameful, too messy, too much.

To Kill My Hunger

Until age thirteen, I knew who I was and where I belonged. Almost overnight, things started to change. My grandfather died. I switched schools. My body was out of control like a tanker, spilling flesh and hormones. In search of answers, I even started going to church.

The God I heard about was real and personal, but we were never properly introduced. My brand of Christianity had space for God, but not for Jesus. It talked more about sin and rules, but less about grace. It paid lip service to Jesus’s work on my behalf. But in practice, I had to prove my own worth.

So I worked hard and won prizes. I was determined to be smart and pretty and, most of all, “good.” But nothing — clothes or friends or money — was ever enough. I was filled with unnamed hungers and I didn’t know where to put them. But I did know this: they were too much.

I was too much — like red wine spilled on white carpet. So, I resolved: I will become like stainless steel. I will kill my desires before they kill me. I will quash my hungers and I will fix myself. I will be thin.

Outer Life, Inner Death

The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). This is a great description of an eating disorder. It names you and it brands you. It seems to offer life — then it kills you.

As a teenager I received anorexia treatment, but it was limited. I gained weight, but on the inside I felt just as messy as before. My name was now “shame” and it burned within me. I resolved to make a new one — this time through religion.

I threw myself into full-time church work, enrolled in Bible college, and married a trainee minister. From the outside, I looked like a great Christian. But the truths of the Bible were drowned out by louder voices. “You’re nothing,” they said. “You’re not enough.”

Overwhelmed by the prospect of a new town and a new calling — “minister’s wife!” — I stopped eating again, and my weight began to drop. I was dying, and it seemed like nothing and no one could save me. We’re sorry, experts told us, but your problems are too much.

A New Hunger

It took the death of my beloved grandmother to pierce the madness. I was too weak to travel to her funeral. Something in me finally broke. I cried out to the God I had tried to flee, “I’ve exhausted my own resources. But if you want me, you can have what’s left.”

I waited for thunder or blinding light. There was only stillness. My eyes fell upon the Bible in front of me and I opened it. The passage I saw describes Jesus, standing in the throne room of heaven:

The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:14–16)

For as long as I could remember, I had been far too intense. Yet here was someone more passionate than I am. Here was a vision that caught my breath. Radiant, terrible, beautiful. Irresistible.

My fingers trembled as I turned the pages to Revelation 5. I encountered Jesus again, this time as a lion — then a bleeding lamb. He’s the embodiment of strength and glory — also of frailty and pain. He’s Jesus as Lord, the conquering Lion. And he’s Jesus as Lamb, sacrificed and broken — for me. A lamb who met me in my brokenness. A lion who vanquished all my foes. The God who turned his face toward me and said, “You’re mine. I’ve bought you. And that’s enough.”

A New Name

That night, I felt myself pierced by a gaze that saw through my name-seeking. Standing before the Lord, I expected anger — instead, I encountered grace. I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t control it. And I couldn’t resist it. My heart was thrilled at his voice. “I love you as you are,” he seemed to say, “but I won’t leave you that way. I’m giving you a new start. I’m giving you a new name.”

For the first time, I felt I had a purpose. I wasn’t in charge — but I had met the One who was. God showed me someone more precious than the perfect me: he gave me himself. And he gave me his name and his identity.

That night marked the beginning of my real recovery from anorexia. It’s a long and painful process, but there is grace for every step. What’s changing me isn’t a program or a technique — it is a Person, more beautiful than any disorder. I can hand over control to him and not be destroyed. He is enough.

For All Who Hunger

Eating disorders can feel like religion. They define our humanity, give us identity, and dictate our worship. They have their own rules and rituals, and they promise rescue from sin. But compare their laws to the real good news:

  • With eating disorders, sin is falling short of our own standards and desires. In the gospel, sin is rejecting Christ and refusing to receive from a giving God.

  • At the center of our eating disorders is our body — we break it and we pay for our own mistakes. At the center of the Christian faith is Christ’s body — broken for us.

  • Eating disorders say, “Try harder, do more, fix it yourself.” Gospel repentance says, “It’s not about anything you can do — it’s about what Jesus has already done.” On the cross, he paid for all of the ways we try to feed and fix ourselves. We strive for a new identity and name. But Jesus gives us his own.

Moving Forward

If you struggle with an eating disorder, don’t give up. Ask for help from your church, your friends, support groups, and professionals. Moving forward may seem frightening — like losing a part of yourself. But Jesus’s call to change is not fleeting. He calls us to follow him to find life in its fullness. Eating disorders promise life and easy answers — then deliver misery and death. Following Jesus means that we die to who we were, but discover all we were made to be.

“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

God Is the Prize of the Gospel: Explaining a Sixth Sola

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 8:00am

The solas may have been articulated during the Reformation, but they describe an eternal gospel that brings us to enjoy the eternal God.

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The Greatest Thing You Can Do with Your Life

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:02pm

One of the most wonderful and hopeful things you can know about yourself and your life is captured in a rather unassuming, simple sentence:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. (1 Corinthians 7:17)

The verse might hit us as a bit constrictive, perhaps even oppressive, especially if our circumstances are difficult or painful. But that would miss the heart of God’s intention for us.

Your life is a gift and an assignment from God. This should infuse our life — its good and evil, its sweet and bitter, its health and affliction, its prosperity and poverty, its comfort and suffering — with an unfathomable dignity, purpose, and glory. You are not an accident. Neither are you a ruined potential, run off the rails because you were dealt a poor genetic hand of cards, suffered others’ abuse, or made foolish and sinful choices, putting you beyond the hope of a useful calling in Jesus’s kingdom.

No, you exist because God wanted you to exist. And you are who you are, what you are, how you are, where you are, and when you are because God made you (John 1:3), wove you in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), called you to be his own (John 10:27; Romans 8:30), and assigned you a place to live (Acts 17:26).

The greatest thing you can do with your life is to live to the hilt the adventurous assignment God has given you.

God Has Called You

Think about this for a moment: “Let each person lead the life . . . to which God has called him.” God has made your entire life your calling!

We tend to think of our callings as our vocations, some significant job God gives us to do with an identifiable and preferably esteemed title. Perhaps it’s a career vocation or perhaps it’s a noncareer vocation in a church or ministry. But that’s too narrow. Of course, vocations should be vehicles for our calling — ways we fulfill our assignment from the Lord. But our calling encompasses more than our vocations.

Our primary core calling is to love God with all we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). And this calling incorporates everyone we interact with, or perhaps comes to mind, in everything we do from morning till night. Which is why John Calvin said, “God commands each one of us to consider his calling in every act of life” (Institutes, 821).

This means that our calling isn’t behind that door we’re waiting for God to open someday (though that may be part of tomorrow’s calling). Our calling is to love God today, to love the neighbors God places in our “road” today, and to do well what God gives our hands to do today.

That’s one reason Jesus tells us, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34). Being overly preoccupied with tomorrow’s calling, as tempting as that can be, is often a way we are deceived into being disengaged from today’s calling. Jesus doesn’t want us to spend the priceless gift of life he’s given us today absorbed in the unreality of an imagined tomorrow.

Now, it is true that our callings change over time. We move through different phases of life, we might be deployed to different places at different times, and we experience various circumstantial and health changes. All these alter our calling. And as the Spirit gives us light, we should seek to anticipate and plan for changes as befit good stewards.

But God wants us focused primarily on the life he’s called us to, which is the life we have today.

Be Faithful to Your Assignment

The Spirit tells us through Paul, “Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him.”

Perhaps you’re thinking, You don’t know my circumstances. Without wanting to be insensitive, it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are.

The circumstances of the Corinthian Christians to whom Paul was writing were all over the board: married, betrothed, and single, widows and bondservants, circumcised and uncircumcised. That’s just a sampling.

Think of the bondservants. They were the physical property of a human master. And yet Paul says to them in 1 Corinthians 7:21, “Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)” What Paul meant was circumstances, even very difficult ones, don’t disqualify anyone from God’s assignment. If we can extricate ourselves honorably from such circumstances, we ought to do it. But if not, let us consider it God’s assignment, at least for today, and be faithful,

not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:6–8)

Assigned to Affliction

Think of Paul’s own various circumstances: imprisoned, violently persecuted, ill, exposed to the cold, hungry, shipwrecked, betrayed, homeless, poorly dressed, mocked, maligned, distrusted, spiritually opposed, afflicted, sometimes despairing of life, and finally killed (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). And it was glorious! All of it! Because Paul’s life was hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) and since the Life (John 14:6) had given him eternal life, death could only gain him a whole new level of life (Philippians 1:21).

As John Calvin said, “we should all regard our particular situation as a post assigned to us by God, lest in the course of our lives we flit to and fro and drift aimlessly about” (Institutes, 821). See your life today as an assignment from God. And stay faithful at your post until the Lord moves you.

Your Greatest Adventure

Here’s the bedrock truth beneath 1 Corinthians 7:17: God — the Creator and sustainer of all that exists — is the one who has chosen us and bestowed on us the exceedingly rare honor to live here and now. He has assigned us a life to lead. And there is no more wonderful, exciting, hopeful, fulfilling, joy-producing sense of life purpose than to realize that we are who we are, what we are, how we are, where we are, and when we are by the assignment of the Lord.

You have been given the unfathomable gift of life. You have been given the infinitely more valuable gift of eternal life. And you have been given the astounding and extremely rare privilege of receiving an assignment from God. There is no higher calling than to lead the life that the Lord has assigned to you. Embrace your assignment, this great adventure chosen for you, and press it to the limit.

Why Is My Child Disabled?

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:00pm

God could have prevented every disability we know today, but he didn’t. And he has ten thousand reasons why.

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